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Southwest Orange Wednesday, Jun. 10, 2020 2 years ago

COLUMN: Bigger than the game

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When it comes to any serious issues — such as inequality and racism — coaches, athletes and administration shouldn't be told to just "stick to sports."
by: Troy Herring Former Sports Editor

Sports often are seen as a simple escape from the everyday stressful and unsettling world.

For me, sports have always been an emotional outlet. What better way for me to get my anger out than by yelling at my television for three hours while NC State figures out new and unique ways to pull defeat from the jaws of victory?

And it’s often because of that idea that some turn their noses when the struggles of the outside world seep into their sports realm. A prime example of this is when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in protest of  police violence and general discrimination against the black community.

Kaepernick, like many other athletes who have participated in some form of protest, was told to “stick to sports.” Following a month of massive protests and riots that erupted around the country after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the sporting community is not just sticking to sports, because doing so would be ignoring significant issues that affect everyone.

That’s why Saturday, June 7, dozens of high school coaches from Orange County high schools came together in the name of unity and equality as they participated in the Coaches for Community march — a non-political, peaceful gathering organized by Trinity Prep Athletic Director Dave Langdon.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Dr. Phillips head football coach Rodney Wells said. “And the whole thing was to show unison and solidarity with the coaches. Our mindset is we treat people like we do in the locker room. In the locker room, skin color, or race or ethnicities or socioeconomics — those things don’t matter. We treat everybody the same, and it’s kind of like everybody gets what they deserve for what they earn.”

Wells was one of a handful of local coaches who participated in the 9 a.m. march. He was joined by The First Academy football coach Leroy Kinard, Ocoee basketball coach John “Sarge” Siers, Olympia football coach Travis Gabriel and West Orange High football coach Mike Granato.

Last week, before this march was planned, I spoke with Gabriel for a solid 90 minutes for a story on football coaches dealing with issues regarding COVID-19 and racial tensions. During that time, I learned a lot.

“In the locker room, skin color, or race or ethnicities or socioeconomics — those things don’t matter. We treat everybody the same, and it’s kind of like everybody gets what they deserve for what they earn.”

— Rodney Wells, Dr. Phillips head football coach 

Gabriel — who, along with Kinard and Wells, are among the area’s black head coaches — told me about growing up on the streets of Miami and witnessing police violence against the black community. I’ve seen acts of discrimination against the black community, but as a white man who grew up in a middle-class family, I have never experienced anything like that. 

What Gabriel did for me during that interview was teach about discrimination based on his own experiences. It’s exactly why he wanted to attend Saturday’s march — to educate, he said. 

“I was there to make sure it is understood that you can’t understand what we go through — what we feel — but you can open your eyes, you can open your mind, and you can educate yourself to say, ‘Now I see,’” Gabriel said. “The problem is it’s not for America to try and understand us — because they can’t — we want America to be knowledgable about what we are going through.”

What the black community has gone through during this country’s history is more than I can fit into this column, but the simple truth is it is centuries past due that something be done to help the United States live up to the liberty it promises its people. 

“It’s time,” Kinard said. “This is the greatest country in the world, and we have an opportunity in the greatest country in the world to live up to that Declaration of Independence, and hopefully we do it for every American and not just a segment of the country.”

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Troy Herring was the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com.

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